Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara
Yoshitomo Nara Yokohama 2012.jpg
Nara at the Yokohama Art Museum, 2012
Born (1959-12-05) 5 December 1959 (age 63)
Alma materKunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany
Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, Nagakute Aichi, Japan
Known forsculpture, painting
Notable workKnife Behind Back (2000), Sorry, couldn't draw left eye! (2003),
Straight Jacket (2000),
Sprout the Ambassador (2001)[1]
AwardsAward for Artist, Nagoya, Japan, 1995

Yoshitomo Nara (奈良 美智, Nara Yoshitomo, born 5 December 1959 in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan) is a Japanese artist. He lives and works in Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, though his artwork has been exhibited worldwide. Nara has had nearly 40 solo exhibitions since 1984.[2] His art work has been housed at the MoMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). His most well-known and repeated subjects are "big-headed girls" with piercing eyes, who one Nara scholar describes as having "childlike expressions [that] resonate with adult emotions, [their] embodiment of kawaii (cuteness) carries a dark humor, and any explicit cultural references are intertwined with personal memories."[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Nara grew up in Aomori Prefecture, Japan, about 300 miles north of where he lives now in Tochigi Prefecture.[5] His exposure to Western music on the American military radio station Far East Network in Honshu influenced his artistic imagination at an early age.[5] He would later provide cover art for bands including Shonen Knife, R.E.M., and Bloodthirsty Butchers.[5] He received his B.F.A. (1985) and an M.F.A. (1987) from the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music. Between 1988 and 1993, Nara studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, in Germany.[6]


"Nara first came to the fore of the art world during Japan's Pop art movement in the 1990s. The subject matter of his sculptures and paintings is deceptively simple: most works depict one seemingly innocuous subject (often pastel-hued children and animals drawn with confident, cartoonish lines) with little or no background. But these children, who appear at first to be cute and even vulnerable, sometimes brandish weapons like knives and saws. Their wide eyes often hold accusatory looks that could be sleepy-eyed irritation at being awoken from a nap—or that could be undiluted expressions of hate."[7]

Nara, however, does not see his weapon-wielding subjects as aggressors. "Look at them, they [the weapons] are so small, like toys. Do you think they could fight with those?" he says. "I don't think so. Rather, I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives..."[8] Lauded by art critics, Nara's bizarrely intriguing works have gained him a cult following around the world.[7] Large original paintings regularly sell for millions of dollars.[9]

In June, 2005, Nara's artwork was featured in the album titled "Suspended Animation" by experimental band Fantômas. Other commercial products (including videos, books, magazines, catalogues and monographs) have been dedicated to Nara's work. Recently, a two-volume catalogue raisonné of all his sculptures, paintings, and drawings was completed.[10]

Light My Fire from 2001

In 2010, the Asia Society showed Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool the first major New York exhibition of his work.[11] Other major retrospectives include: "I Don't Mind If You Forget Me", which toured Japan between 2001 and 2002; and "Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens," which traveled the United States from 2003 to 2005.[10] One of his exhibited works is now part of a window of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England.

In 2019, Nara's installation art Not Everything but/ Green House (2009) was sold for a new record price of HK$40.12m (US$5.12m) at Poly Auction Hong Kong. However, this record only lasted for a few hours. Knife Behind Back (2000), a large-scale painting by Nara, just sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong for HK$195.7m (US$25m), nearly five times its record. The new record is also a milestone for Nara as he becomes the most expensive Japanese artist.[12] Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes was sold for HK$92.9m at the same year.

In April 2021, the painting Frog Girl was sold in Sotheby's Hong Kong Spring auction for US$12.5 million.[13]


Though Nara claims to have never said that he was influenced by manga,[14] the imagery of manga and anime of his 1960s childhood is often cited when discussing Nara's stylized, large-eyed figures.[15][16] Nara subverts these images, however, by infusing his works with horror-like imagery. This juxtaposition of human evil with the innocent child may be a reaction to Japan's rigid social conventions.[1]

Nara cites his musical education as a foundational influence for his art.[5] The punk rock music of Nara's youth has also influenced his work.[17]

Nara’s upbringing in post-World War II Japan profoundly affected his mindset and, subsequently, his artwork as well. He grew up in a time when Japan was experiencing an inundation of Western pop culture; comic books, Warner Bros and Walt Disney animation, and Western rock music are just a few examples.[18] Additionally, Nara was raised in the isolated countryside as a latchkey child of working-class parents, so he was often left alone with little to do but explore his young imagination. The fiercely independent subjects that populate so much of his artwork may be a reaction to Nara's own largely independent childhood.[19]

Recent work[edit]

Nara exhibited work in New York at the Pace Gallery in May–April 2017. It was his first exhibition in New York since 2013. Entitled Thinker, the pieces exhibited represent a shift towards a more meditative body of work.[20] Of this shift, Nara said, "In the past I would have an image that I wanted to create, and I would just do it. I would just get it finished. Now I take my time and work slowly and build up all these layers to find the best way. Just like you cook so that you know it’s going to be the most delicious, you find a way to make your art the best it can be."[14]

In July 2017, The Toyota Municipal Museum of Art held a career retrospective of the artist's work, called for better or worse.[21]

A retrospective of his work, including 100 pieces from 36 years, is being exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2020.[22]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 2018 - "Yoshitomo Nara: Ceramic Works and ..." - Pace, Hong Kong[23]
  • 2018 - "Drawings: 1988-2018 Last 30 Years" - Kaikai Kiki, Tokyo[24]
  • 2017 - "for better or worse" - Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Aichi
  • 2016 - "Yoshitomo Nara: New Works" - Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
  • 2015 - "Shallow Puddles" - Blum and Poe, Tokyo[25]
  • 2014 - "Yoshitomo Nara" - Blum and Poe, Los Angeles
  • 2009 - "15TH ANNIVERSARY INAUGURAL EXHIBITION" - Blum and Poe, Los Angeles
  • 2008 - "Yoshitomo Nara and installation by YNG" - Blum and Poe, Los Angeles
  • 2004 - "Yoshitomo Nara - New Works" - Blum and Poe, Los Angeles
  • 2003 - "Inaugural Group Show" - Blum and Poe, Los Angeles
  • 2001 - "YOSHITOMO NARA In the White Room: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings" - Blum and Poe, Santa Monica
  • 1999 - "YOSHITOMO NARA An Exhibition of Sculpture in Two Parts (PARTS I & II)" - Blum and Poe, Santa Monica
  • 1997 - "Yoshitomo Nara" - Blum and Poe, Santa Monica
  • 1995 - "YOSHITOMO NARA: PACIFIC BABIES - Los Angeles International '95 In Cooperation with SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo" - Blum and Poe, Santa Monica

Selected publications[edit]

  • Koon, Yeewan (2020). Yoshitomo Nara. Phaidon.
  • Koplos, Janet. "Making Space for Misfits: Yoshitomo Nara." Sculpture. Volume 30, Number 3. April 2011. p. 42-7. ISSN 0889-728X
  • A to Z. Tokyo: Foil, 2007. ISBN 978-4902943160.


  1. ^ a b Holzwarth, Hans W. (2009). 100 Contemporary Artists A-Z (Taschen's 25th anniversary special ed.). Köln: Taschen. pp. 410–412. ISBN 978-3-8365-1490-3.
  2. ^ "San Jose Museum of Art". 2009-12-23. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  3. ^ Koon, Yeewan (2020). Yoshitomo Nara. Phaidon. p. 6.
  4. ^ Koon, Yeewan (2016). "The Artist Behind the Camera: Yoshitomo Nara". Once in a Life – Encounters with Nara. Asia Society. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Marino, Nick (July 24, 2020). "Yoshitomo Nara Paints What He Hears". New York Times.
  6. ^ "Yoshitomo Nara biography". Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  7. ^ a b "NARA". Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  8. ^ Yoshitomo Nara Archived September 23, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Phillips's $48.8 Million Sale Sets Two Records". artnet News. 15 October 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Artist Profile: Yoshitomo Nara". Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  11. ^ St.-Lascaux, David (October 2010). "Hey, Ho, Let's Go: YOSHITOMO NARA at the Asia Society". The Brooklyn Rail.
  12. ^ "Yoshitomo Nara Becomes Most Expensive Japanese Artist as His "Knife Behind Back" Sells for Record-Smashing HK$195m | Auctions News | THE VALUE | Art News". TheValue.com. Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  13. ^ "Yoshitomo Nara | Frog Girl". Sotheby's.
  14. ^ a b Ayers, Robert (14 April 2017). "'I Was Really Unthinking Before': Yoshitomo Nara on His Recent Work and His Show at Pace Gallery in New York". Art News. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  15. ^ "Yoshitomo Nara". Archived from the original on June 19, 2013. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  16. ^ Chambers, Kristin (2018). "Nara, Yoshitomo". Oxford Art Online. Grove Art Online. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T097994. ISBN 978-1-884446-05-4. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  17. ^ Chiu, Melissa. "Yoshitomo Nara".
  18. ^ Chambers, Kristin. "Yoshitomo Nara". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  19. ^ Mizota, Sharon. "Little Triggers". Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  20. ^ "Pace Gallery - Yoshitomo Nara: Thinker". Pace Gallery. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  21. ^ "Yoshitomo Nara for better or worse Works:1987-2017". Toyota Municipal Museum of Modern Art. 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  22. ^ Marino, Nick (2020-07-24). "Yoshitomo Nara Paints What He Hears". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  23. ^ "Pace Gallery - "Ceramic Works and..." - Yoshitomo Nara". Pace Gallery. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  24. ^ "Kaikai Kiki Gallery - Drawings : 1988~2018 Last 30 years Yoshitomo Nara". Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  25. ^ "Blum and Poe - Yoshitomo Nara". Blum and Poe. Retrieved 17 February 2018.

External links[edit]